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U.N. Rights Body Endorses Gaza War Crimes Report

by Laura MacInnis

GENEVA  - The U.N. Human Rights Council endorsed on Friday a Gaza report that accused both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas of committing war crimes.

A Palestinian man walks past a house, damaged during the three-week offensive Israel launched last December, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip September 16, 2009. (Photo/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa) In a special session, 25 of the body's members voted in favor of the resolution that chastised Israel for failing to cooperate with the U.N. mission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. Another 6 voted against and 11 abstained.

Both Israel and Hamas have rejected the charges in the 575-page Goldstone report, which is most critical of the Jewish state's actions in the December-January war.

The report calls for the U.N. Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court if the Israelis or Palestinians fail to investigate the alleged abuses themselves.

But the resolution agreed in Geneva simply calls for the U.N. General Assembly to consider the Goldstone report and for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back to the Human Rights Council on Israel's adherence to it.

Such moves would at a minimum keep up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who Washington is trying to convince to commit to a "two-state solution" that previous Israeli governments have signed up to.

U.S. OPPOSED

The breakdown of the Human Rights Council vote was not immediately released, but the United States had said it would vote against the resolution that was drafted by the Palestinians with the support of Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tunisia on behalf of non-aligned, African, Islamic and Arab nations.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Friday that Netanyahu had urged Brown to have Britain vote against the resolution, not abstain as it was expected to do.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, said just before the vote that the resolution was starkly imbalanced and failed to encourage the negotiation of peace in the Middle East.

The U.S. charge d'affaires in Geneva, Douglas Griffiths, said that Washington would vote against the recommendation because it failed to consider wrongdoings by Hamas and slammed Israel with "sweeping conclusions of law."

Taher al-Nono, spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza, said Hamas would investigate the recommendations of the report but said nothing about the report's charges against Hamas.

"The Palestinian government welcomes the endorsement on the Goldstone report and thanks the friendly countries which voted in favor of the report," he said. "We hope that the vote may be the beginning of the prosecution of the leaders of the occupation."

The Human Rights Council had agreed during its last regular session to postpone discussion on the Gaza report under pressure from Washington aimed at getting the Middle East peace process back on track.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came under sharp criticism for agreeing to the delay, leading to the request for a special session on the topic.

Additional reporting by Matt Falloon and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Samia Nakhoul.

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